Childhood obesity has become a hot-button issue and the government has already taken steps to impose restrictions on what can be advertised to children and when. This is where our responsibility comes in; we have to seize the initiative and motivate children into taking the right decisions about their own health.
At the moment it is children and young people who are taking the lead in environmental matters. They are the ones who are lecturing their parents about conservation, carbon footprints and climate change. This is perfectly understandable since they will bear more of the brunt of these factors than their parents.
However this negative pester power has been very effective and the licensing industry can learn from it. We need to harness that same power in terms of encouraging healthy eating and exercise.
I believe it is vitally important that this initiative comes from the children. Jamie Oliver got an enormous amount of publicity for his healthy eating message, but overall it didn’t really have the effect he might have been hoping for. That’s because he was ramming the message home to parents when the real target is the children themselves, this has to be a peer to peer initiative.
Making this work will require a considerable leap of faith in some sectors. It may mean, for example, that you have to look at taking your enormously popular children’s character and use it to promote a healthy low-sugar brand instead of the top of the line cereal.
If you do that then you may also have to be inventive in the deals you do; the healthy brand may not sell anywhere near as much as the high-sugar market leader so you may have to rethink the terms of your deal.
If you do it right then it can pay dividends. You have only to look at Lazytown which is one of our most successful properties at TLC. Lazytown is entirely driven by a desire to encourage children to eat properly and take more exercise and because of the way the message is presented it is an enormous international hit. Ten years ago you wouldn’t have looked at Lazytown now everyone is desperately trying to find the next one.
Children who have weight issues tend to suffer for the rest of their lives, but we have a duty to help them and we can do this by empowering them. If we take our responsibilities seriously now then we can empower them to make the right decisions for the future.
This is in one sense a call to arms for our industry but in another sense it is also a wake up call. If we don’t do something about this it will be done for us with ever more restrictive limits on advertising and promotions.
Our model here has to be the drinks industry which has been similarly under pressure in recent years. They have formed their own industry groups which are highly proactive in their policies and have encouraged people to drink responsibly. By grasping the nettle in this way they are now a self-regulatory industry and that is surely what we want for our own industry.